READING AND AUGUST
Text by Iban petit.
NO TWO ALIKE
Scott Fitzgerald used to say, “Good writing is like swimming under water and holding your breath.” Good reading gives you a similar feeling. Or at least it should. Iban Petit thinks reading is one of the last few things you can still do when there’s a general power cut, the weather is so wild you must stay in, and the civilised world (maybe even barbarism) seems to have ceased to be.
Stories of a Tiny Life: Time slots full of cross-references or mirrors in which to look at oneself, inside or as a footnote.
After more than fifty hours locked in at home I’ve finally decided to put on a pair of rubber boots and get out on the street. Now I’m looking at the flooded entrance. I walk down the last steps and put my feet inside the water. It almost reaches the top of my boots, right below the knees. Outside, the sun is rising. Everything is silent. The landscape is desolate. I see things from a different angle. I need to bow my head to find some sense of normality. The trees didn’t stand it; they’re all split. Most of the lampposts, stoplights and traffic signs are bended over themselves. On the background, in a small street that crosses the square, I see a red fire brigade launch. An elderly woman goes towards it. She walks holding her skirt besides a young guy. One of the firemen takes her by the arms and helps her jump on-board. Another fireman shouts something. The launch starts its engine, and the young guy walks back to the door they emerged from. After that, again, silence.
Berta on TV
They announced it as a storm that had been a hurricane and had already devastated Ireland, Scotland, and the North-West of France. For more than a week we saw images of destruction and of mass evacuations on TV. They called the hurricane Berta. The storm, however, had no name. They said that the alert would only be red for six hours, the time of the high tide. Still, two hours after the rain and the wind started, they advised people to seek refuge at home. School would be closed the next day, car use was forbidden, and public transport ceased to work. They also evacuated three camping sites. I thought about Sofía, she would have loved all that. “We’ll take advantage of it to stay in and cuddle under the blankets,” she would have said.
Out of reach
They cut the power supply at a quarter to eight that evening. I was writing an article for an on-line magazine. The light of the reading lamp went off and the computer screen went black. I became anxious. The article would be published the following day and I needed to send it before ten that night. I tried to call the editor of the magazine to explain what had happened, but there was no signal either. I felt helpless and started swearing. I walked to the window. I watched the rain falling non-stop. The puddles were getting bigger and bigger. I feared the wind would shatter the glass. I could only think of my unfinished article, of not being able to send it, of not being able to give any explanations. Then I remembered I hadn’t read a book in months, since Sofía passed away I only lived inside the Internet, and I blamed myself for it. I lit some candles and started reading Ben Lerner’s 10:04. In one of the passages of the story, the main character is having dinner at home while he awaits the arrival of a snowstorm that will leave him isolated for days. Little by little, the protagonist starts to feel that everything he eats tastes particularly good. Maybe because it’s the best thing he will be able to taste in a while, he tells himself.
Sardines and mussels
At midnight I felt hungry and went to the kitchen. There, in the dark, I swallowed sardines and mussels directly from the can. I remembered that when I was a kid, my mum made my sister and I eat them like that when we went to the beach. Indeed, they tasted better than ever.
Now I’m dragging my feet under water. It’s like doing it in a resort swimming pool but in the midst of dystopian scenery. In his essay collection, The Crack-Up, Scott Fitzgerald said that good writing is like swimming under water and holding your breath. I feel like plunging to have something to tell later on. Step by step I walk towards the newsstand in the middle of the square. As I get closer I stumble with something solid under water. It’s a pile of wet newspapers. Each isle has its reef, I tell myself. I climb up on the underwater paper mound and manage reach the ceiling. I sit down and look. The city has become a great urban delta. I feel I’m witnessing a historic moment. I try to store the images that surround me in my mind. They’re almost identical to the ones I saw on TV a few days ago, but the wind, the silence and a strange smell of wetland and mud make me shiver. It isn’t the same seeing Sofía now, in photographs or videos. It was better when she was still here and everything was live. I realise it’s been almost three days since I last talked to anyone. I haven’t spoken to my mother, my father or my sister. I think they must be OK, I should see them more often, they must be worried about me, they would think I’m ‘mad’ should they see me sitting here. The rain starts again and I see the fire brigade launch moving towards me.
“Are you OK? You shouldn’t have left your house, this is impossible.” One of the firemen helps me get off the newsstand’s ceiling. I don’t reply. The launch covers the 500 metres down to the entrance of my building. The firemen say good morning. I thank them. I climb up the stairs. When I step on the dry floor I notice my feet are completely soaked. I also feel I just found a story I will write down some day and like everything else around me will remind me of her. And then, I hold my breath, and smile for the first time in a long while.
- Ben Lerner (2014). 10:04. Barcelona: Reservoir Books.
- Scott Fitzgerald (1945). El Crack-Up. Madrid: Capitán Swing.
- AMA (2014). No hay dos iguales (Nada dos veces). Madrid: Jabalina.